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A vigil was held by the Love of T, a foundation created in memory of Pittsfield resident Teresa Fitzgerald who died by suicide on May 2, 2021.

Love of T Foundation Marks 2023 Successes, Gears Up For Fundraiser

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — 2023 was a robust year for the Love of T Foundation, dedicated to closing the gap in Berkshire County's behavioral health care.

After a year of connecting individuals with peer support and welcoming new staff members, the foundation is gearing up for its sold-out "Dance the Blues Away" gala on Saturday at the Berkshire Hills Country Club.

Last year, the event raised over $20,000 for the foundation's "Berkshire County Peer Connection," providing 230 hours of one-on-one peer support to 68 individuals navigating suicide.  This year, the goal is to provide 520 hours of peer support to 172 individuals.

"It's a really good event and really fun," Founder Luke Fitzgerald said.

"It goes towards the programming and we hope to be able to expand the programming with more nights at the drop-in center, hopefully in North County and even South County, and then I'd like to long term have a whole office and a whole team."

Fitzgerald started Love of T in 2021 after his mother Teresa "T" died of suicide.  He explained that he essentially wrote her obituary and immediately began working on the foundation, which recently marked two years as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

"It was made painfully clear that change was needed in behavioral healthcare services here in Berkshire County. Teresa was someone who was always there for family, friends, neighbors, whoever it was that needed her. She would always, without hesitation, take time to spend hours on the phone or just sit with somebody who just needed an ear," the foundation's brochure reads.

"Teresa's love and care for her community is exactly how Love of T aims to close the gaps in behavioral health care in Berkshire County."

Berkshire County has the second-highest suicide rate in the state and the local mental health system is said to be overloaded with patients and not enough clinicians.  The Berkshire Benchmarks 2023 State of the County Update reports that "Opioid-related deaths have continued to rise in Berkshire County. Suicide rates have also increased, a potential indicator that mental health issues have worsened in the region."

Love of T provides peer support, which is a non-clinical method that uses peer specialists who have lived experience and are trained to support others' navigation of mental health, substance abuse, or other psychological trauma.  Mental Health America reports that peer support helps decrease hospitalization rates and in-patient services and decreases the stigma.



Programming began in June and includes weekly support groups, one-on-one support, and weekly drop-in sessions.  Last year, two peer support workers and a managing director were hired.  Staff attended over 40 hours of training and conferences in the sector.

Every Monday from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., drop-in sessions are hosted at Billy J's Elm Street Java where peer support workers have helped connect individuals with resources for housing, employment, and more to help them feel less alone.

Once a week, a support group for "Navigating Suicidal Thoughts" is held at the Pomeroy House, which is run by the Brien Center and is an alternative option to inpatient psychiatric hospitalization.

"We really try to be the non-clinical route," Fitzgerald said. "They can definitely help people navigate what they are already doing or connect them with other resources that they might not be aware of but the peer-to-peer model is a nonclinical, essentially meeting somebody exactly where they are at and taking care of the whole person."

Fitzgerald explained that the programming is in "just the very beginning" and is evolving with a goal of connecting every person in the county struggling with suicidal thoughts to a peer specialist.

Love of T partners with NAMI Berkshire, the Berkshire Coalition for Suicide Prevention, the Brien Center, and the partial unit at Berkshire Medical Center.

The "Dance the Blues Away" gala will be held at Berkshire Hills Country Club on February 24 at 5:30 p.m.  It includes dinner by KJ Nosh, music by the Misty Blues, and a silent auction.  Though the event is sold out, those who wish to be placed on the waitlist are asked to contact Serena Johnson at serena@loveoft.org.


 


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Pittsfield Woman Dies After Being Rescued From Structure Fire

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The woman who was rescued when her home caught fire on Monday has died. 
 
The Berkshire District Attorney's Office confirmed on Tuesday that Susan Steenstrup, 67, died after she was pulled from the blaze at 1 Marlboro Drive. The cause of death has not been confirmed.
 
Steenstrup was found on the second-floor by firefighters who responded to the blaze at about 6:45 p.m. She was taken by County Ambulance to Berkshire Medical Center. 
 
The two-story, 1930s home is coned off and shows signs of the emergency response such as a broken front window where crews entered to rescue Steenstrup. The fire was reported to have spread from the kitchen and a cause has not yet been determined.
 
Steenstrup was the only occupant at the time. The home had been in her family since at least the 1960s. 
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